Travel Bucket List: India – Punjab Part 3

After Chandigarh and Sirhind, using Chandigarh as a base, let’s travel around 55 km northwest to Rupnagar and then 75 km southwest of Chandigarh to Patiala.

Rupnagar
Formerly known as Ropar, Rupnagar is also known as one of the bigger sites belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization. The ancient town of Rupnagar is said to have been named by a Gujjar Raja called Rokeshar, who ruled during the 11th century and named it after his son Rupsen. Situated close to the state border, on the eastern side, Rupnagar is wedged between the Sutlej river and the Shivalik range.

Rupnagar is one of the Indus Valley sites along the Ghaggar-Hakra beds. There is an archaeological museum in the city which was opened in the year 1998 for general public. The museum exhibits the archaeological remains of excavated site in the city, the first Harappan site of Independent India. These excavations reveal a cultural sequence from Harappan to medieval times. Some of the important exhibits include antiquities of Harappan times, gold coins of Chandragupta and copper and bronze implements. There are many historical and religious places in Rupnagar, including gurdwaras such as Gurudwara Bhhatha Sahib and Gurudwara Tibbi Sahib.

Anandpur Sahib, which is believed to have been founded by Guru Teg Bahadur, is situated near the town. The Gurudwara Keshgarh Sahib at the town is considered as the birthplace of the Khalsa and is counted as one of the five holy seats of Sikhism. Because of this, Rupnagar has immense religious significance for Sikhs. The Holla Mohalla festival is celebrated with fanfare in this town. The most important of the complex of shrines at Sri Anandpur Sahib is Gurudwara Keshgarh Sahib, which stands on the place where the “Khalsa” was born. It is regarded as one of the five sacred “Takhats” or seats of Sikh religion and is built on the hillock. Climbing up some steps, Darshani Deorhi has to be crossed first, then comes the large open marbled quadrangle at the end of which steps lead up to the central shrine. In the centre of the hall is a room displaying twelve weapons used by Guru Gobind Singh in battle. There is an imposing dome on the hall with a golden kalas on the top. It was here in 1699, on the Baisakhi day or April 13, the tenth master, Guru Gobind Singh Ji created the Khalsa by baptising five beloved Sikhs known as the “Panj Piaras”. At the behest of the Guru, thousands of people had assembled on the hill where now Gurudwara Keshgarh Sahib stands. The Guru appeared before the congregation with a naked sword in his hand and told that his thirsty sword demanded the life of a volunteer. A deep hush fell over the crowd. Ultimately, Daya Ram, a Khatri of Lahore came forward. The Guru took him to a tent and returned with his sword with blood. He asked for another head and Dharam Dass, a Jat from Delhi offered himself. Three more similar calls brought out Mohakam Chand, a washerman of Dwarka, Sahib Chand, a barber from Bidar and Himmat Rai, a water carrier from Jagan Nath Puri. From the tent in which these five followers had been taken, Guru Gobind Singh brought out the five Sikhs dressed in new clothes, blue turbaned with loose long yellow shirts, a waist band round their waists, with sorts of Knicker-bockers worn as underwears and with swords dangling by their sides. It was an inspiring sight. The Guru told the congregation that these were his Five Beloved Sikhs or Panj Payaras, and he baptised them by offering them Amrit or the nectar of immortality he had prepared by dissolving sugar blocks or Patasa in water sanctifying the sweetened water by stirring it with double edged sword, khanda and reciting the holy verses. The Guru himself took the Amrit from the Panj Payaras, thus removing the distinction between himself and followers. On that day, Guru Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh. The Panj Payaras were enjoined to embrace the five symbols of the new Sikh faith, Kes or unshorn hair, Kangha or comb, Kara or steel bracelet, Kachha or short drawer and Kirpan or sword. The ceremony gave the followers of the Guru, a new identity which was to prepare the Sikhs for their struggle against the Mughal State and influence the future of the country. One of the biggest festivals celebrated in this city is the Holla Mohalla, at the Anandpur Sahib, every year, after Holi. This three-day fair is attended by Sikh devotees from all across the country. On the last day, Nihangs (Sikh warriors) dressed in traditional attire and carrying traditional weapons, walk towards the Holgarh Fort and display tent pegging, riding and sword wielding on the sand-clad bed of Charan Ganga.

The Virasat-e-Khalsa, formerly known as the Khalsa Heritage Memorial Complex is a museum located at Anandpur Sahib complex. The museum gives an insight to the events that took place in Punjab five hundred years ago which gave birth to Sikhism and finally the Khalsa Panth. The museum throws light on the vision of the great Gurus, the eternal message of peace and brotherhood which they delivered to the whole mankind and the rich culture and heritage of Punjab. The museum is intended to commemorate 500 years of Sikh history and the 300th anniversary of the Khalsa, the scriptures written by the 10th and last Guru Sh. Guru Gobind Singh Ji founder of modern Sikhism. The Heritage Complex is inspired by the rich natural and architectural heritage of Sri Anandpur Sahib, while also drawing heavily from Sikh and regional architecture. Contrary to the tradition of domes which crown the sacred Sikh sites, the roofs of the Museum are concave-shaped receptors facing the sky. Sheathed in stainless steel, they reflect the sun’s light towards the Gurdwara and the Fort.

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Situated on the banks of Sirhind Canal, the Gurudwara Chamkaur Sahib is located around 16 km from Rupnagar. Guru Gobind Singh and his two elder sons and about 40 followers had come to this place from Kotla Nihang with his pursuers close on his heels.They came to the garden said to be belonging to Raja Bidhi Chand, where now Gurudwara Damdama Sahib stands.There are several Gurudwaras at this place marking the vistis and halts of Guru Gobind Singh. Gurudwara Katalgarh Sahib also known as Gurudwara Shahidganj. Occupying a unique place among all the Gurudwaras located at Chamkaur Sahib, it is built at the site where Baba Ajit Singh and Baba Jhujhar Singh, elder sons of Guru along with his 37 followers fell fighting against the Mughal Army.

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The Archaeological Museum in Rupnagar is situated on the banks of the Sutlej River. Opened to public in the year 1998, the museum houses the archaeological remains of excavated site near Ropar, the first Harappan site excavated in India after partition. The excavation revealed a cultural sequence from Harappan to medieval times. Important exhibits include antiquities of Harappan times, Painted Grey ware culture, Saka, Kushana, Gupta times such as Vina Vadini or a lady playing on the veena, steatite seal, copper and bronze implements, ring stone, yakshi image, gold coins of Chandragupta. Visitors can also have a glimpse of important protected monuments of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and World Heritage monuments. The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm. Open on all days of the week, the museum is closed on Fridays and has an entrance fee of INR 5 with children up to the age of 15 getting free entrance.

Situated at the feet of the Shiwalik Hills, Nangal at a distance of 60 km from Rupnagar, is surrounded by beautiful environment of hills, river and canals and is an important tourist centre. It is divided into two parts, Nangal Township and Naya Nangal. The town was named Nangal by acquiring the lands of three villages viz. Nangal Nikku, Hambewal and Dubheta and gained importance with the starting of the construction of Bhakra Dam on Satluj river in November, 1955. Apart from Bhakra Dam, the Nangal Dam, Nangal Hydel Channel, Ganguwal and Kotla Power Houses are located here. Overlooking the Nangal lake, Gurudwara Vibhour Sahib presents a majestic view. Guru Gobind Singh is said to have mediated at this place. The Nangal lake is a beautiful artificial lake which is 6 Km long shaped by the Nangal dam. About 40,000 migratory birds fly here in winters and this lake is a heavenly paradise for bird lovers.

The Ropar Wetland, also named Ropar Lake, is a man-made freshwater riverine and lacustrine wetland. The area is biologically diverse and it is an important ecological zone is located in the Shivalik foothills of the Lower Himalayas and was created in 1952 on the Sutlej River. It was built by building a head regulator to store and divert water for beneficial uses of irrigation, drinking and industrial water supply. The endangered turtle Chitra indica and the threatened snake Python molurus, as per IUCN Red List, are reported to be resident in the wetland. The wetland once was a popular tourist attraction for bird watching and boating. A tourism complex called the ‘Pinccasia’ was located within the wetland boundary, which was run by the Punjab Tourism Development Corporation. A boat club was also functioning. However, today, only a dilapidated building of tourist bungalow exists, the boating bay is damaged and the garden is also unkept.

Patiala
About 85 km southwest of Rupnagar and about 73 km southwest of Chandigarh lies the fourth largest city in Punjab, the city of Patiala which is located around the Qila Mubarak or the ‘Fortunate Castle’ constructed by the Sidhu Jat chieftain Ala Singh, who founded the royal dynasty of Patiala State in 1763, and after whom the city is named. The word ‘Patiala’ comes from the roots pati and ala, the former is Urdu for a “strip of land” and ‘ala’ comes from the name of the founder of the city, Ala Singh. So, ‘Patiala’ can be translated into English to mean ‘the land of Ala’.

Patiala state was established in 1763 by Ala Singh, who laid the foundation of the Patiala fort known as Qila Mubarak, around which the present city of Patiala is built. After the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761 in which the Marathas were defeated by the Afghans, the writ of the Afghans prevailed throughout Punjab. It is at this stage that the rulers of Patiala began to acquire ensigns of royalty. The Patiala state saw more than forty years of a ceaseless power struggle with the Afghan Durrani Empire, Maratha Empire and the Sikh Empire of Lahore. In 1808, the Raja of Patiala entered into a treaty with the British against the Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore in 1808, thus becoming collaborator in the grand empire building process by the British in, the sub-continent of India. Patiala became a 17-guns salute state during the British Raj. The city of Patiala was designed and developed according to a plan akin to that of temple architecture, the first settlers of Patiala being the Hindus of Sirhind, who opened their business establishments outside the Darshani Gate.

The Qila Mubarak complex is a rampart fort cum palace built in Sikh palace architectural style- a derivative of Mughal and Rajput style of architecture in India. It was built under the patronage of Maharaja Ala Singh in 1764. The whole complex comprises of various sections including the Ran Baas or the guest house, the Darbar Hall, the Qila Androon, with an underground sewerage system within the Qila, and the Qila Bahadurgah.

Located in Moti Bagh, the Moti Bagh Palace is an ancient palace that is simply magnificent. Originally built in the 1840s by the Maharaja of Patiala, the premises of the palace were expanded in 1920 under the rule of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh. Boasting of striking architecture with chhatris and jharokas, and exuding old world charm, it is home to 15 dining halls. Lately, a part of the palace has been converted into a museum and the remaining part into the National Institute of Sports.

Literally meaning the Palace of Mirrors, the Sheesh Mahal was built as a part of the Old Moti Bagh Palace in the 19th century. There are a lot of frescoes, as well as is home to many relics of art and culture as well as several paintings done in the Rajput and Kangra styles, belonging to the 20th century, mostly made under the reign of Maharaja Narinder Singh. There is also an artificial lake in front of this palace along with a hanging bridge called Lakshman Jhula which was fashioned after the Lakshman Jhula of Haridwar. The museum which is located along with the palace has the largest collection of medals from across the world.

The Baradari Gardens, located north of the pld Patiala city and close to the Sheranwala Gate was built during the reign of Maharaja Rajinder Singh. It houses a lot of rare trees, shrubs and flowers along with some graceful colonial buildings. There is also a statue of Maharaja Rajinder Singh in the garden. This was built as a royal residence with cricket stadium, a skating rink and the Rajinder Kothi, which used to be a small palace and has now been turned into a heritage hotel.

The Bahadurgarh Fort is an ancient historical fort which was constructed in 1658 and originally built by Nawab Saif Khan. It was later renovated and remodelled by Maharaja Karam Singh in 1837 and sprawls over an area of 21 sq km. The fort is named after the ninth Sikh Guru – Guru Tegh Bahadur. Boasting of two ramparts and a moat, this magnificent structure is built in a circular shape with imposing and impregnable walls. Two of the circular battlement grounds are surrounded by a 25 feet deep and a 58 feet wide moat to make it difficult for the enemies to break through. Beside a Gurudwara in the fort complex that goes by the name of Gurudwara Sahib Patshai Navin, there is also a mosque setting a perfect example of peaceful coexistence. In addition to being a popular tourist attraction, the fort premises are currently used for the Punjab Police Commando Training School.

The Gurudwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib is one of the most popular gurudwaras in because it’s waters are said to have curative properties. According to the HukamNama, it is believed that anyone with ailments or illnesses who takes a dip in the pond with complete devotion and attention can be fully cured. Visitors can take part in a lot of activities apart from praying here such as volunteering to help feed people or keeping the Gurdwara clean. A number of people visit this Gurdwara, not only on special occasions such as Basant Panchmi, which was the day when Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji arrived at this place, Gurunanak Jayanti or Lohri but this place is also often visited by newly-wed couples and new-borns.

The Kali Devi Mandir at Patiala was built by the Maharaja of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh, in 1936, who was inspired to build the temple and bring the idol of Goddess Kali and the “paawan jyoti” or the “sacred fire” from Bengal to Patiala. Situated opposite the Baradari Garden, the temple, made entirely of white marble, houses a six-foot-tall idol of Goddess Kali made of black stone and standing erect in a gold-plated sanctum. The idol is seen in her popular image – bloodshot eyes, open mouth and a drooping tongue, with a bent sword and a human head in her hand. The walls of the temples are adorned with beautiful murals, inscriptions and frescoes, telling the tales of Hindu mythology and stories from Hindu epics. Because of its architectural finesse, the temple has been declared a national monument. Interestingly, an older temple to a Hindu deity Raj Rajeshwari also stands in the middle of the temple complex.

Located 5 kms from Patiala city, the Bir Moti Bagh Wildlife Sanctuary is spread over 654 hectares of land and was once the royal family’s prized hunting reserves. The Bir area was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1952 and today, it is home to a plethora of indigenous wildlife, notably the chital, hog deer, peafowl, myna, partridge, etc. There is also a separate deer park within the Sanctuary. The best time to visit the Sanctuary is during the winter months, between October and January when migratory birds can be spotted.

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